He put his canvas telescope between his feet so that he could feel it. It was as well, he determined, to practice caution where none was needed, so he would be letter perfect in the art when he reached the dangers of the city. Between Scattergood's shoes and the feet they inclosed, were sox. Before his union with Mandy he had been a stranger to such effeteness. Even now he was prone to discard them as soon as he was out of range of her vision. To-day he had not escaped, for, warm as the day was, heavy white woolen sox folded and festooned themselves modishly over the tops of his shoes. He could not wriggle a toe, which made his mental processes difficult, for his toes were first aids to his brain.
However, he was going to visit a railroad president, and railroad presidents were said by Mandy to go in for style. Scattergood mournfully arose to the necessities of the situation.
The twenty-four-mile ride was not long to Scattergood, for he occupied it by studying again every inch of his valley. He never tired of studying it. As the law book to the lawyer so the valley was to Scattergood—something never to be laid aside, something to be kept fresh in mind and never neglected. He never passed the length of it without seeing a new possibility.
Scattergood flagged the train. The four-hour ride to the city he occupied in talking to the conductor or brake-man or any member of the train's crew he could engage in conversation. He was asking them about their jobs, what they did, and why. He was asking question after question about railroads and railroading, in his quaint, characteristic manner. It was his intention to own a railroad, and he was at work finding out how the thing was done.
Next morning at seven he was on hand at the terminal offices of the G. and B. An hour later minor employees began to arrive.
"Young feller," he said, accosting a pleasant-faced boy, "where d'you calc'late I'll find Mr. Castle?"
"President Castle?" asked the boy.
"That's the feller," said Scattergood.
"About now he'll be eating grapefruit and poached egg," said the boy.
"Don't he work none durin' the day?"
The boy laughed good-humoredly. "He gets down about nine thirty, and when he don't go off somewheres he's mostly here till four—except between one and two, when he's at lunch."
"Gosh!" said Scattergood. "Must be wearin' him to the bone. 'Most five hours a day he sticks to it. Bear up under it perty well, young feller, does he? Keep his health and strength?"
"He works enough to get paid fifty thousand a year for it," said the boy.
"That settles it," said Scattergood. "I've picked my job. I'm a-goin' to be a railroad president." He put his canvas telescope down, and placed a heavy foot on it for safety. "Calc'late I kin sit here and wait, can't I?"
The boy nodded and went on. During the next hour more than one dozen young men and women passed that spot to eye with appreciation the caller who waited for Mr. Castle. Scattergood was unaware of their scrutiny, for he was building a railroad down his valley—a railroad of which he was the president.
Scattergood looked frequently at a big, open-faced, silver watch which was connected to his vest in pickpocket-proof fashion with a braided leather thong. When it told him nine thirty had arrived, he got up, his telescope in his hand, and ambled heavily down the corridor. He poked his head in at an open door, and called, amiably, "Kin anybody tell me where to find Mr. Castle?"
He was directed, and presently opened a door marked "President's Office." The room within did not contain the president. It was crossed by a railing, behind which sat an office boy. Behind him was a stenographer.
"President in?" asked Scattergood.
The boy looked at him severely, and replied, shortly, that the president was busy.
"Havin' only five hours to do all his work," said Scattergood, "I calc'lated he would be some took up. Tell him Scattergood Baines wants to have a talk to him, sonny."
"Have an appointment?"
"No, sonny," said Scattergood, "but if you don't scamper into his room fairly spry, the seat of your pants is goin' to have an appointment with my hand." He leaned over the railing as he said it, and the boy, regarding Scattergood's face a moment, arose and whisked into the next room.
Shortly there appeared a youngish man, constructed by nature to adorn wearing apparel.
"Be you Mr. Castle?" asked Scattergood.
"I'm his secretary. What do you want?"
"Young man, I'm disapp'inted. When I see you I figgered you must be president of the railroad or the Queen of Sheeby. I want to see Mr. Castle."
"What is your business with him?"
"'Tain't fit for young ears to listen to," said Scattergood.
"If you have any business with Mr. Castle, state it to me."
"Um!... I come quite consid'able of a distance to see him—which I calc'late to do." He reached over, with astonishing suddenness in one so bulky, and twirled the secretary about with his ham of a hand. At the same time he leaned against the gate, which was not fastened to restrain such a weight. "Now, forrard march, young feller. Lead the way. I'm follerin' you." And thus Scattergood entered the presence.
He saw behind a huge, flat desk a very thin man, who leaned forward, clutching his temples as though to restrain within bounds the machinery of the brain inside. It was President Castle's habitual posture when working. The temples and dome of the head seemed to bulge, as if there was too much inside for the strength of the restraining walls. The president looked up and fastened eyes that themselves bulged from hollowed sockets. It was the face of a man who ran his mental dynamo at top speed in defiance of nature's laws against speeding.
"Well?" he snapped. "Well—well?"
"Name's Scattergood Baines. Figger to build a railroad. Want to see you about it," said Scattergood, succinctly.
"Not interested. Busy. Get out," said Castle.
Scattergood dropped the secretary, and lumbered up to the president's desk. He leaned over it heavily. "I've come to see you about this here thing," he said, quietly. "Either you'll talk to me about it now, or I'll have to sort of arrange so that you'll come to me, askin' to talk about it, later. Now you kin save both our time."
Castle regarded Scattergood with eyes that seemed to burn with unnatural nervous energy—it was a brief scrutiny. "Clear out," he said to his secretary. "Sit down," to Scattergood.
"Obleeged," said Scattergood. "I'm figgerin' on buildin' a railroad down Coldriver Valley from Coldriver to connect with the G. and B. narrow gauge. Carry freight and passengers. Want you to agree about train service, freight transfer, buildin' a station, and sich matters."
Here was a man who could get down to business, President Castle perceived, and who could state his business clearly and to the point.
"I know the valley. Been talking about it. Where do you come in?"
"I calculate to build the road."
"For Crane and Keith?"
"They're the men backing it, aren't they? In to see me about it last week."
Crane and Keith! Scattergood's career in the valley had been one of warfare with Crane and Keith. He had beaten them with his dam and boom company; he had beaten them in certain stumpage operations. Now they were after his railroad and his valley.
"Um!..." he said, and reached down mechanically to loosen his shoe. Here was need for careful thought.
"I gave them all necessary information," said the president.
"Don't concern me none," said Scattergood. "This here is to be my railroad, and I'm the feller that's goin' to own and run it. Crane and Keith hain't in it at all."
"You're too late. The G. and B. has agreed to handle their freight and to stop passengers at their station. Tentatively agreed to lease and operate the road when built.... Good morning." "I calculate there's room for argument," said Scattergood. "I own right consid'able of that right of way."
"Railroad can take it under the right of eminent domain," said the president.
"Kin one railroad take from another one?" asked Scattergood, a bit anxiously.
"Um!... Wa-al, you see, Mr. Castle, I got me a charter to build this railroad. Legislature up and give me one."
"Makes no difference. We've made an agreement with Crane and Keith which stands. You can't build your road, whatever you've got. Frankly, we won't tolerate a road there that we don't control. Good morning."
"That final, Mr. President?"
"If I was to build in spite of you I calc'late you'd fix things so's runnin' it wouldn't do much good to me, eh? Stop no trains for me, and sich like?"
"Um!... Mornin', Mr. President. If you ever git up to Coldriver don't go to the hotel. Come right to my house. Mandy'll be glad to see you. Mornin'."
Scattergood and Johnnie Bones, the young lawyer whom Scattergood had taken to his heart, were studying a railway map of the state with special reference to the G. & B. It showed them that the G. & B. traversed a southerly corner of the state and had within its boundaries some forty miles of track.
"The idee," said Scattergood, "is to make that forty mile of track consid'able more of a worry to Castle than all the rest of his railroad."
"Meddling with the railroads is a dangerous pastime," said Johnnie. "Besides, how can you manage it?"
"We got a legislature, hain't we?"
"Yes, but the boys feel pretty friendly to the railroads, I understand."
"Feel perty friendly to me, too," said Scattergood.
"I doubt if you could pass any legislation they wanted to fight hard."
"Um!... I'll look out for that end, Johnnie. Now what I want is for you to draw up a bill for me that'll sort of irritate 'em where irritation does the most hurt—which, I calc'late, is in the pocketbook. Here's my notion: To make a pop'lar measure of it; somethin' that'll appeal to the folks. We kin git the papers to start a holler and have folks demandin' action of their representatives, and sich like. Taxes! That'll fetch 'em every time."
"Yes," said Johnnie, dubiously, "but—"
"You listen" said Scattergood. "It stands to reason that the state don't realize much out of that there forty mile of track. The G. and B. gits the use of the state, so to speak, without payin' a fair rent for it. You draw up a bill pervidin' that the railroad has got to pay a fee of, say a dollar, for every passenger car it runs over them forty miles, and fifty cents for every freight car. That'll mount to a consid'able sum every year, eh?"
"It'll amount to so much," said Johnnie, gazing ruefully at his client, "that there'll be the devil to pay. You'll pull every railroad in the state down around your ears."
"Let 'em drop."
"And I don't know if the law'll hold water—even if you got it passed. It's darn-fool legislation, Mr. Baines—but some darn-fool legislation sticks. I don't believe this would, but it might."
"That's plenty to suit me," said Scattergood, slipping on his shoes and standing up. "You git at it.... And say," he said, as a sort of afterthought, "I want to git through a leetle bill for my stage line. Here's about it. Won't take more'n fifty words." He handed Johnnie a slip, crumpled and grimy, with lead-pencil notes on. "This won't cause no trouble, anyhow."
Scattergood went back to his hardware store and sat down in his reinforced armchair on the piazza. As he sat there young Jim Hands drove up with his girl, alighted, and went into the ice-cream parlor for refreshment. Scattergood studied the rig. It lacked something to give it the final touch of style dear to the country youth.
Scattergood got up, and ambled into his store, returning with a resplendent buggy whip—one with a white silk bow tied above its handle. This he placed in the socket on the dashboard. Then he resumed his chair. Presently Jim emerged with his girl and helped her into the rig. He noticed the whip, took it out of its place, and examined it; swished it through the air to try its excellence.
"Mighty nice gad," said Scattergood.
"Where in tunket did it come from?" asked Jim.
"I stuck it there. Looked to me like a rig sich as your'n needed a good whip to set it off. I jest put it there to see how it looked."
Jim glanced at his girl, scratched the back of his suntanned neck, and felt in his pocket.
"Calc'late I did need a whip," he said. "How much is sich whips fetchin'?"
"I kin give you that one a might lower 'n usual. It'll be two dollars to you, seem's you got sich a purty girl in the buggy."
The girl giggled, Jim flushed, and fished out two one-dollar bills, which he passed over to Scattergood. Then, whip in hand, he drove off with a flourish. Scattergood pocketed the money serenely. It was by methods such as this that he did, in his hardware store, double the business such a store in such a locality normally accounted for. Scattergood's most outstanding quality was that he never let a business opportunity slip—large or small—and that he manufactured for himself fully half of his business opportunities. He had lifted retail salesmanship to the rank of an art.
Again he got up and went inside, where he wrote a letter to a certain wholesale house with whom his account was large. The letter said he had pressing need for half a dozen railroad rails of certain size and weight, and didn't know where to get them, and would the recipient find them and ship them at once.
Presently Tim Plant, teamster, drove by, and Scattergood hailed him.
"Tim," he said, "you owe me a leetle bill. This hain't a dun, but I got a mite of work to be done, and seein' things wasn't brisk with you, I figgered you might want to work it out—jest to keep busy."
"Sure," said Tim.
Whereupon Scattergood elevated himself to the seat beside Tim, and was driven to the spot he had selected for the Coldriver terminal of his railroad.
"I want about a hunderd feet graded along here," he said, "to lay rails on."
"Rails!... Gosh! Scattergood, you hain't thinkin' of buildin' a railroad, be you?"
"Shucks!" said Scattergood. "I jest got a half dozen rails comin', and I figgered I'd like to see how they'd look all laid down on the spot. Give folks an idee how a railroad 'u'd look if there was one."
In which manner Scattergood collected a doubtful bill, obtained a quantity of labor at what might be called wholesale rates—and actually started work on his railroad. Actual, patent for the world to see. The railroad was begun. Not Crane & Keith, not President Castle, not a court in the world could deny that actual construction had begun. Scattergood was insuring himself against possible steps by the enemy to nullify his charter.
"What's this here eminent domain?" Scattergood asked Johnnie Bones.
"It's a legal thing that allows railroads to take land necessary to its operation—paying for it, of course."
"Crane and Keith, f'r instance?"
"Um!... Have to be right of way, or jest land for railroad yards, or to build railroad buildin's on?"
"Any land necessary to a railroad."
"Um!... Who says if it's necessary?"
"How'd you git at it?"
"Start what are called condemnation proceedings."
"All right, Johnnie, start me some."
"Against whom, and for what, Mr. Baines?"
"Against Crane and Keith, to git their land down at the G. and B. All their mill yards, you know. Don't want the mill buildin'. They're welcome to that. Jest their yards."
"But they can't run the mill without the log yard and the yard to pile out their lumber."
"Be too bad, wouldn't it? Calc'late I'm a heap sorry for Crane and Keith. Them fellers arouses my sympathy mighty frequent."
"But you're not a railroad, Mr. Baines."
"Yes I be, Johnnie. To-morrow I'll be layin' rails to prove it."
"But you own land right adjoining Crane and Keith's yards. Plenty of it."
"Not plenty, Johnnie.... Not plenty. As long as Crane and Keith owns anything in this neighborhood I hain't got plenty of it. Get the idee?"
"You want to run them out?"
"Wa-al, they hain't been exactly friendly to me. I like to dwell among friends, Johnnie. Lately they been makin' a sight of trouble for me. Seems like I ought to sort of return the favor. 'Tain't jest spite, Johnnie. Spite's a luxury I can't afford if there hain't a money profit in it. Seems like there might be a dollar or two in this here proceedin'—if handled jest right."
Johnnie didn't see it, but then he failed to see the profitable object in a great many things that Scattergood undertook. It was not his business to see, but to carry out promptly and efficiently Scattergood's directions. The time had not yet arrived when Johnnie was Scattergood's right hand, as in the bigger days that lay ahead.
"Didn't know Crane's sister married President Castle of the G. and B., did you, Johnnie?"
"No. What has that to do with it?"
"Consid'able.... Consid'able. Goes some ways toward provin' to me I was expected to call on Castle and that things was arranged on purpose. Proves to my satisfaction that Crane and Keith went out of their way to start this rumpus with me.... You start them condemnation proceedin's as quick as you kin."
Johnnie started them. Scattergood waited a few days; watched with interest the laying of the first rails of the Coldriver Railroad, and then made the day's drive to the state capital with drafts of his pair of bills in his pocket. He hunted up the representative from his town—Amri Striker by name.
"Amri," said he, "how's your disposition these days, eh? Feel like doin' favors?"
"Guess a lot of us boys feel like doin' favors for you, Scattergood." Which was not short of the truth, for Scattergood had been studying the science of politics as it was practiced in his state and putting to practical use his education. Indeed, he added to the science not a few contrivances characteristic of himself, which made the old-timers scratch their heads and admit that a new man had arisen who must be reckoned with. Not yet did Scattergood hold the state in the hollow of his hand, naming governors, senators, directing legislation, as he did when his years were heavier on his shoulders. Probably, however, there was no single individual in the commonwealth who could exert as much influence as he. If there was a single man to compare with him it was Lafe Siggins, from the northern part of the state. All men admitted that a partnership between Scattergood and Lafe would be unbeatable.
"Got a bill I want introduced, Amri," said Scattergood.
"Let's see her, Scattergood."
Amri read the bill; then he turned around in his chair and looked out of the window. Then he walked to the door and opened it suddenly, and peered up and down the hall.
"The dum thing's loaded with dynamite," he said, when he came back.
"Calc'lated on some explosion," said Scattergood. "But I calc'late the folks'll be for it. Shouldn't be s'prised if the feller who introduced it and made a fight for it would stand mighty well, back home. Might git to be Senator, Amri. No tellin'."
"Can't no sich bill be passed. The boys likes their passes, and I guess there's some that gits more than passes out of the railroads."
"If this bill's introduced, Amri," said Scattergood, solemnly, "there'll be a chance for some of the boys to fat up their savings' account—pervidin' there's a good chance of its passin'. The railroads'll git scairt and send quite a bank roll up this way."
"You bet," said Amri, with watering mouth.
"Lafe in town?"
"Come in last week."
"Lafe, I understand, hain't in politics for fun."
"Lafe's in right where he kin git the most the quickest."
"Run out and git him to step up here," said Scattergood.
In half an hour Lafe Siggins, tall, bony, long, and solemn of face, stepped into the room, and closed the door after him cautiously.
"Howdy, Scattergood!" he said.
"Howdy, Lafe!... Want your backin' for a pop'lar measure. I've up and invented a new way of taxin' a railroad."
Lafe started for the door. "Afternoon," he said, with a tone of finality.
"But," said Scattergood, "I figger you to do the fightin' for the railroads—reapin' whatever benefits you can figger out of it for yourself."
Lafe paused, considered, and returned. "What's the idee?" he asked.
"I jest don't want this bill to pass too easy," said Scattergood, soberly, but with a twinkle in his eye.
"It wouldn't," said Lafe.
"Um!... Railroads is more liberal, hain't they, when there's a good chance of their gittin' licked? Suppose this come to a fight, and it looked like they was goin' to git the worst of it. Supposin' the outcome hung on two or three votes, eh? And them votes looked dubious."
Lafe pressed his thin lips together.
"I guess I kin account for near half of the boys, Lafe, and I guess you kin line up clost to half with the railroads, can't you? Well, you don't stand to lose nothin', do you? All we got to do is keep them decidin' votes where we want 'em." Then he leaned over and whispered in Lafe's ear briefly.
Lafe's thin lips curved upward a trifle at the ends. "Scattergood," said he, "this here's an idee. Never recollect nothin' resemblin' it since I been in politics. What you after?"
"Jest pleasure, Lafe.... Jest pleasure. Is it a deal?"
"It's a deal."
"Standin' guard, Scattergood."
"When you go out send him in."
Amri opened the door that Lafe closed behind him.
"All fixed," said Scattergood. "I want to see these boys to-night." Scattergood handed Amri a list of names. "And say, Amri, here's a leetle bill you might jest slip along quick. Don't amount to nothin', but it might help me some. Like to git the Governor's signature to it as soon as it kin be done."
Amri read it cautiously. It was just a harmless little measure having to do with stage lines. "All right," he said, carelessly.
Crane was in President Castle's office, and his demeanor was that of a man who has heard disquieting news.
"I told you," he said, in tones of reproach, "that he wasn't safe to monkey with. Keith and I thought he was just a fat, backwoods rube, but we got burnt, and burnt good. We were going to let him alone, but you got us into this—and now you've got to get us out again. Know what he's done? Nothing much but start condemnation proceedings against us to take our mill yards down on the railroad for a site for a depot and freight sheds. That's all. And us with close to a hundred thousand tied up in that mill. If he puts it through ..."
"He won't," snapped Castle.
"He's started to build his railroad. Actually laying rails."
"So I heard. That's to hold his charter.... Don't you worry. He can't build that road, and you men will. As soon as I found out he had that charter, and saw the possibilities of that valley, I made up my mind he had to be eliminated. And he will be."
"Keith and I tried that."
"I saw him," said Castle. "He's no fool. You thought he was. I'm not making any such mistake. Going after you the way he has proves it."
"And he'll be going after you, too. You want to mind your eye."
"It's a little different tackling the G. and B., don't you think? And I doubt if he figures we're really backing you."
"What he figures and what you think he figures are mighty wide apart sometimes. It cost me money to find that out."
The telephone interrupted. Castle answered: "Yes, Hammond, I can see you now. What is it?... All right. Come right up." Hammond was the railroad's general counsel.
He appeared presently.
"I thought we had the legislature up yonder tamed," he said, angrily, as he entered the office.
"Huh!... Take a look at this." He handed to the president Scattergood's novel taxation, measure. "What you make of that? Who's behind it? What's the game?"
Castle read it carefully; then he turned to Crane. "You win," he said, succinctly. "Your friend Scattergood has brought the fight right on to our front porch.... What about it, Hammond? Will such a tom-fool law stand water?"
"Can't tell. My judgment is that it wouldn't, but it's such a fool law that nobody can tell. And if it stuck—" He sucked in his breath. "It would give every jay legisature a show to rough the railroads beautifully."
"It would hurt.... Of course it mustn't pass. Get after it and don't let any grass grow. Kill it in committee. That's the safest way.... Have Lafe Siggins look after it."
Hammond bustled out, and Castle turned to his brother-in-law. "I underestimated this Scattergood some," he said. "Now I'll go after him.... For reasons of necessity we will discontinue all train service at the flag station at the mouth of Coldriver Valley. That'll leave his stage line dangling in the air. Just for a taste of what we can do.... I'll have Hammond look after that condemnation matter for you."
"He'll be coming around to offer to sidetrack that legislation if you'll let him build his railroad."
"Probably. I guess we won't trade."
But Scattergood did not come around to offer a compromise. He seemed to have lost interest in the matter wholly and to give his time solely to his hardware store. But the Transient Car bill, as it came to be called, began mysteriously to attract unprecedented attention. The press of the state showed unusual interest in it. In short, it became the one big measure of the legislative session. Everything else was secondary to it. When a railroad measure is hotly discussed in every loafing place in a state there is a measure that legislators handle with gloves. It is loaded. When the home folks get really interested in a thing they are apt to demand explanations. Wherefore it was but natural that President Castle's experts found it impossible to strangle the bill in committee. It was reported out, and then Hammond found it wise to journey to the capital to take charge of things himself.
At the end of a week, Mr. Hammond, general counsel for the G. & B. and expert handler of legislatures, was forced to write President Castle that he faced a condition new in his broad experience.
"The chances," he said, "are more than even that this bill passes. Men we have been able to depend on are refractory. Siggins is doing his best, but so far he has been able to account for only forty-five per cent of the votes. The strange thing about it," he finished, with genuine amazement, "is that the other side doesn't seem to be spending a penny."
Which was perfectly true. Neither in that fight nor in any of the scores of legislative battles in which Scattergood took part in his after life did he spend a dollar to buy a vote or to influence legislation. Perhaps it was scruple on his part; perhaps economy; perhaps he felt that his own peculiar methods were more efficacious than mere barter and sale.
From end to end, the state was in excitement over the measure. Skillful work had made it seem a vital thing to the people, and hundreds of letters and telegrams poured in to representatives. It looked as if public opinion were overwhelmingly with the bill. It was Scattergood's first use of the weapon of public opinion. In this battle he learned its potentialities. Men who knew him well and were close to him in political matters declare he became the most skillful creator of a fictitious public opinion that ever lived in the state. It was in keeping with his methods that he always seemed to be acting in response to a demand from the public rather than that he excited the public to demand what Scattergood wanted. But that was when Scattergood's hair was touched with gray and his girth had increased by twoscore pounds.
"I can't find any trace of Scattergood Baines in this matter," Hammond reported to President Castle.
That was true. Scattergood stayed at home, tending vigorously to his hardware business. Representatives did not call on him; he did not call on them. No trails led to his door.
President Castle had expected overtures from Scattergood, but none materialized. To a man of Castle's experience this was more than strange; it was uncanny. He began to consider the situation really serious. Was the man so confident as his silence indicated?
"Get the votes," he wired succinctly to Hammond, and Hammond, reading the message correctly, dipped into the emergency barrel of the railroad with generous hands. Prosperity had come to that legislature. Yet he was able, at the end of another two weeks, to guarantee six votes less than a majority. The opposition had captured one more vote than he, and needed but five to pass their measure. Hammond faced the task of acquiring those five unplaced legislators, and of weaning one away from Scattergood—and the bill was due to come up in the House in two days.
That day President Castle himself arrived in the capital, and, after discussing the situation with Hammond, wired Scattergood, asking for an appointment. The mountain was going to Mohammed. Scattergood replied not a word.
"I calc'late," he said to Mandy, "that President Castle's raisin' him a blister."
On the morning of the day on which the bill was to come to a vote Scattergood appeared unostentatiously in the capital, but word of his presence flashed from tongue to tongue with miraculous speed. Word of it came to President Castle, who pocketed his pride for excellent business reasons, and sent up his card to Scattergood's room.
"Guess I kin see him a minute," said Scattergood, and the president ascended with thoughts in his heart which Scattergood was well able to lead.
"Baines," said Castle, without preface, "what do you want?"
"Nothin' you've got, I calc'late," said Scattergood, serenely.
"You're back of this infernal bill. The railroads can't permit it to pass. It won't pass."
"Then what you wastin' your time on me for?" Scattergood asked.
"If we let you build your infernal little railroad will you drop out of this?"
"Hain't in it to speak of."
"Will you take your hands off—if we give you your railroad and guarantee train service?"
"Can't seem to see my way clear."
"What do you gain by passing this bill? You're nothing ahead. It won't give you your railroad. It won't give you anything."
"Calc'late you're right."
"Listen to reason, man. You want something. What is it?"
"Me?... Um!... I'm a plain kind of a man, Mr. President, with a plain kind of a wife. Hain't never met Mandy, have you? Wa-al, her and me is perty contented with life. We got a good hardware store ..."
"Rot! What do you want?"
Scattergood leaned forward, his round face, with its bulging cheeks, as expressionless as some particularly big and ruddy apple.
"If you're achin' to do favors for me, Mr. President you kin drop in along about supper time. Right now can't think of a thing you kin do for me. But I'll try ... I'll spend the afternoon thinkin' over all the things you might be able to do, and I'll try to pick one of 'em out.... I got to see a hardware salesman now. Afternoon Mr. President."
"Baines," said Castle, losing his temper for the first time in a dozen years, "we'll smash you for this. We'll drive you out of the state. Well—"
"Don't slam the door," said Scattergood, placidly; "it might disturb the other folks in the hotel."
That afternoon the galleries of the House were jammed. Below, in their seats, the legislators sat uncomfortably. There was a tenseness in the air which made men's skin tingle. The Transient Car bill was about to come to a vote. Everything had been done by both sides that could be done. There could be no more outside interference; no more money influence. It was all over. Now the matter was in the hands of those uneasy men, who, even now, might hold steadfast to their principles or to the money that had bought them or to the power that had compelled them—or who might, for reasons secret to their several souls, change sides with astonishing suddenness, upsetting all calculations. Such things have been done.... But, even without the happening of the unexpected, no man could say how the votes would fall. Neither side had obtained a sure majority.
The preliminary formalities went forward. Then began the roll call, and from his place in the gallery Hammond shecked off on his list name after name, as they voted yea or nay—and President Castle watched and kept mental count. Scattergood was not present. The thing was even, dangerously even. For every yea there sounded a balancing nay. The count stood sixty-one for, sixty against ... with ten more votes to call.... With six votes to call the count was even.
"Whittaker," called the clerk's monotonous voice.
The six final votes had been cast—and cast solidly against Scattergood's bill. Scattergood was beaten, decisively, destructively beaten. Not only was he defeated here, but he was smashed where the damage was even more destructive—in his prestige. He was a discredited political leader.... Lafe Siggins could not restrain a chuckle, for Scattergood had played into his hands. Scattergood had allowed himself to be eliminated from calculation in the state, leaving Siggins as sole, undisputed, victorious boss. It had been a clever scheme that Scattergood had outlined to Lafe—so clever that Lafe hadn't seen the great good that lay in it for himself—until days later. He shrugged his shoulders. It was just another case of a man unfamiliar with the game overplaying his hand.
President Castle shook hands openly with Hammond. True, there was a demonstration of disapproval from the gallery—but that was only the people! It did not signify.
"We got him," said Castle.
"But it was a close squeak."
Castle looked grimly down on the representatives, now huddled together in whispering groups.
"I don't often have the impulse to crow over a man," he said, "but this Baines was so infernally cocky. He told me I might see him at six o'clock and he'd tell me what I could do for him. Well, I'm going to see him." His voice was grim and forbidding.
On the way they picked up Siggins and invited him to dinner. The three went to the hotel, where, sitting calmly, placidly in the lobby, was Scattergood.
Castle walked directly to him. "You were going to tell me what I could do for you—at this hour, I believe."
"Did say somethin' like that."
Castle eyed Scattergood venomously, found him a hard man to crow over. He admitted Scattergood to be a good loser.
"I expect you'll be asking favors for some time," Castle said, "and not getting them. I told you we'd lick you—and we have. I told you we'd smash you and drive you out of the state. We'll do that just as surely ..."
"Maybe so," said Scattergood, phlegmatically. "Maybe so. Nobody kin tell.... Howdy, Siggins! Lookin' mighty jubilant about somethin'. Glad to see it.... And Mr. Hammond seems pleased, too. Done a good job of work, didn't you? Bet your boss is pleased with you, eh?"
"When you're ready to turn your chunks of right of way over to Crane and Keith, let them know," said Castle. "I guess the G. and B. loses interest in you from this on—or it will presently."
"Jest a jiffy," said Scattergood, as the trio turned away. "Seems like you was goin' to do a favor for me. Well, you hain't done it yet.... Guess I need a favor perty bad at this minute, eh? Wa-al, 'tain't a big one. Jest sort of cast your eye over this here." Scattergood handed Castle a folded paper of documentary appearance.
Castle snatched it and read it. It was brief. Not more than fifty words. It was a copy of a bill having to do with stage lines, passed by both Houses and signed by the Governor. It provided that wherever any stage line or other transportation company of whatsoever nature intersected the line of a railroad or terminated on such line, the railroad should be compelled to establish a regular station on demand, for the handling of passengers and freight, and should stop all trains except through trains, and should establish sidetracks for the handling and transfer of freight.
A few formal words, backed by the authority of the state, compelling the G. & B. to do all, and more than all, that Scattergood had requested of them! A few words making possible Scattergood's railroad more surely than agreement with President Castle could have made it!
"While you folks was busy with the Transient Car bill," Scattergood said, amiably, "the boys sort of tended to this for me. If I'd thought Hammond was int'rested I might have called it to his attention. But I figgered he was paid to watch out for sich things, and I didn't want to interfere none. Jest as well, I take it."
Castle was scowling at Hammond, momentarily at a loss for words. Siggins was gazing at Scattergood with thin lips parted a trifle. His joy was blanketed.
"Somethin' else," said Scattergood, looking from one to another, and finally at Lafe. "Siggins figgered that my gittin' a beatin' on this bill would sort of make him boss of the state. You see, Mr. President, this here bill wasn't meant to pass. It was fixed up for a couple of reasons. One was to git something which I'll tell you about in a second. Another was to make the boys in the House sort of prosperous like, and grateful to me for gittin' 'em the prosperity—with the railroads payin' for it. The last was to settle things between Lafe and me. I sort of wanted Lafe and the boys in politics to understand which was which.... And they'll understand.... Now, Mr. President, the thing I wanted to git was in two parts. First one was to git your attention on this here bill so's you wouldn't notice my little stage-line thing. The other was pretty nigh as valuable. I got it. It's a list of every man in this legislature that took money for a vote on this thing, with how much money he took and the hour and minute it was paid him—and who by. Seems like I managed to git your name, Mr. President, connected with them last six votes that you took over body and britches this noon. And I kin prove every item of it.... With the folks around the state feelin' like they do, I shouldn't be s'prised if I could make a heap of trouble."
President Castle was a big man or he would not hold the position that was his. He knew when a fight was over. "You win," he said, tersely. "Name it."
"Two things. First off I want an agreement with your road, made by a full vote of the board of directors, agreein' to do jest what this bill pervides—in case of emergencies. And second, I want your folks should handle the bonds of my railroad—construction bonds. Guess I could manage it without, but I need my money for somethin' else. About two hunderd thousand dollars' worth of bonds'll do it."
Castle shrugged his shoulders—seeing possibilities for the future. However, he knew Scattergood had weighed those possibilities himself.
"Agreed," he said. There was a moment's silence. "By the way," he asked, "what was the idea of the condemnation proceedings against Crane and Keith?"
"Jest a mite of business. With the railroad goin', I need a good mill up on a site I got below Coldriver. Seems like Crane and Keith got a might timid, and yestiddy they up and sold out that mill to a friend of mine—actin' for me—for fifty-five thousand dollars. Figger I got it dirt cheap. Wuth close to a hunderd thousand, hain't it?... I'm goin' to move it to Coldriver, lock, stock, and barrel."
"Baines," said Castle, presently, "the G. and B. will keep hands off your valley. It will be better for us to work together than at odds. Suppose we bury the hatchet and work for each other's interest.... I'm paid to know a coming man when I see one."
"Was hopin' you'd see it that way, Mr. President. I hain't one that hankers for strife ... not even with Lafe, here, if he can figger he's willin' to admit what he's got to admit."
"I take my orders from you," said Lafe.
In which authentic manner Scattergood Baines, in one transaction, made possible and financed his railroad, obtained his first mill, and became undisputed political dictator of his state. Characteristically, there was charged to expense for the whole transaction a sum that a very ordinary man could earn in a week. Scattergood loved cheap results.
HE DEALS IN MATCHMAKING
It is known to all the world that Scattergood came to own the stage line that plied down the valley to the railroad, but minute research and a sifting of dubious testimony was required to unearth the true details of that transaction in which the peg leg of Deacon Pettybone figured in a dominant manner.
Scattergood had long had his eye on the stage line, because his valley, the Coldriver Valley, was dominated by it. Transportation was king, and Scattergood knew that if his vision of developing that valley and of acquiring riches for himself out of the development were ever to become actuality, he must first control the means of transporting passengers and commodities. But the stage line was not to be acquired, because Deacon Pettybone and Elder Hooper, who owned it in partnership, had not been on speaking terms for twenty years. So bitter was the feud that either would have borne cheerfully a loss to prevent the other from making a profit. The stage line was a worry and an annoyance to both of them, but neither of them would sell, because he was afraid his enemy might derive some advantage.
As Scattergood well knew, the feud had its inception in religion as religion is practiced in that community. Deacon Pettybone had been born a Congregationalist. Elder Hooper was the sturdiest pillar of the Congregationalist church. They had grown up together from boyhood, as chums, and later as business partners, but at the mature age of forty Deacon Pettybone had attended a revival service in the Baptist church. When he came out of that service the mischief was done—he had been converted to the tenets of immersion and straightway withdrew from the church of his birth to enter the fold of its bitterest rival in Coldriver, if it were possible for the Baptists to be bitterer rivals of the Congregationalist than the Methodists and Universalists were. Coldriver's population was less than four hundred. It required a great deal of religion to get that four hundred safely past the snares and pitfalls of Coldriver, for there were no fewer than five full-grown churches, of which the Roman Catholic was the fifth, and a body of folks who met in one another's houses of a Sabbath under the denomination of the United Brethren. Five churches worshiped God through the crackling parchment of their mortgages, when one, or at most two, might have pointed the way to heaven free and clear, and with no worries over semiannual interest.
When Pettybone turned apostate there was such a commotion as had never before disturbed Coldriver; it subsided, and was forgotten as the years dragged on, by all but Pettybone and Hooper, who continued tenaciously to hate each other with a bitter hatred—and the more so that their financial affairs were so inextricably mingled.
Even when Pettybone's leg was mashed by a log, and he lay between life and death, there was no hint of a reconciliation; and when Pettybone appeared again on Coldriver's streets, hobbling on a peg leg of his own fashioning, the fires of vindictiveness burned higher and hotter than ever.
The situation would have been hopeless to anybody not possessed of Scattergood's optimism and resource. It is reported that Scattergood propounded a saying early in his career at Coldriver, to this effect:
"Anybody kin git anythin' done if he wants it hard enough. Trouble is, most folks hain't got a sufficient capacity for wantin'."
Scattergood's capacity for wanting was abnormal, and his ability to want until he got was what made him the remarkable figure in the life of his state that he was destined to become.
Scattergood was sitting on the piazza of his hardware store, basking in the sunshine, and gazing up the dusty road which passed between Coldriver's business structures, and disappeared over the hill. His eyes were half closed, and his bulk, which later became phenomenal, filled comfortably the specially reinforced chair which came to be called his throne. Pliny Pickett slouched around the corner, and, as he approached, the unmistakable odor of horses became noticeable. Inhabitants of Coldriver knew when Pliny came into a room even if their backs were turned.
"Mornin', Pliny," said Scattergood.
"Fetch any passengers?"
"Drummer 'n' a fat woman to visit the Bogles. Say, Scattergood, looks like you're goin' to have competition."
"Um!... Don't say."
"Hardware," said Pliny, nasally. "Station's heaped with it. Every merchant in town's layin' in a stock."
"Do tell," said Scattergood, without emotion. "Kettleman and Locker?" They were the grocers.
Pliny nodded. "An' Lumley and Penny mixin' it in with dry goods, and Atwell minglin' it with clothin'."
Scattergood reached down and unlaced his shoes. His mind worked more freely when his toes were unconfined, so that he might wriggle them as he reasoned. Pliny knew the sign and grinned.
"Much 'bleeged," said Scattergood, and Pliny moved off.
"Pliny," said Scattergood.
"Was you thinkin' of buyin' a stove?"
"Could think about it, couldn't you?"
"Might manage it."
"Folks thinkin' of buyin' stoves gits prices, don't they? Kind of inquires around to see where they kin buy cheapest?"
Something of the sort was not unanticipated by Scattergood. He knew the merchants of the town had not forgiven him for once getting decidedly the better of them in a certain transaction, and he knew now that they had combined against him. Their idea was transparent to him. It was their hope to put him out of business by adding hardware to their stocks and to sell it at cost, until he gave up the ship. They could afford it. It would not interfere with their normal profits.
Scattergood wriggled his toes furiously and squinted his eyes. They alighted on a young man in clerical black, who crossed the square from the post office. It was no other than Jason Hooper, son of Elder Hooper, who had been educated to the ministry and had recently come to occupy the pulpit of his father's church—a pleasant and worthy young man. Almost simultaneously Scattergood's eyes perceived Selina Pettybone, daughter of Deacon Pettybone, just entering the post office.
"Purty as a picture," said Scattergood to himself, and then he chuckled.
The young minister nodded to Scattergood, and Scattergood spoke in return. "Mornin', Parson," he said. "How d'you find business?"
"Business?" The young man looked a bit startled.
"Oh, how's the marryin' industry, f'r instance? Brisk?"
Jason smiled. "It might be brisker."
"Um!... Maybe folks figgers you hain't had enough experience to do their marryin' jest accordin' to rule—seein' 's you hain't married yourself."
Jason blushed and frowned. This was a subject that had been brought to his attention insistently; he had been informed that a minister should marry, and there were several marriageable daughters in his church.
"You aren't going to pick a wife for me, too?" he said, with a rueful smile.
"Dunno but I might," said Scattergood. "Got any preferences as to weight and color?"
"My only preference is to have them all—a long way off," said the young minister.
"Some day you'll have opposite leanin's. There'll be a girl you'll want to snuggle right clost to.... G'-by, Parson, I'll keep my eyes open for you."
A few days later consignments of hardware began to arrive, and Scattergood, sitting on the piazza of his store, watched them carried with much ostentation into the stores of his rivals. It was noticed that he scarcely had his shoes on during this week and that he even walked to the post office barefooted, squirming his delighted toes into the warm sand with apparent enjoyment. Immediately Locker and Kettleman and Lumley and the rest made it known to Coldriver and environs that they were dealing in hardware and not for profit, but merely as a convenience to their patrons. They emphasized the fact that they would sell hardware at cost, and exhibited prices which Scattergood studied and saw that he could not meet.
The town watched the affair, expecting much of Scattergood, but he made no move. Apparently he was contented to sit on his piazza and see customers passing him by for the alluring bargains offered beyond. Coldriver was disappointed in Scattergood, and it said so, much as a disgruntled critic will speak of an actor who has made a flat failure in a favorite piece.
On a certain afternoon Scattergood was seen to accost Selina Pettybone, who paused, and drew nearer, showing signs of regret and interest.
"Seliny," said Scattergood, "you're one of them Daughters of Dorcas, or half sisters of Mehitable, or somethin' religious and charitable, hain't you?"
"Yes," said Selina, with a smile.
"What does sich folks do when they git to hear of a case of misery and distress?"
"They do what they can, Mr. Baines," said Selina.
"Um!... If you heard Xenophon Banks was took sick of a busted leg, and his wife was dead these two year, and a 'leven-year-old girl was tryin' to nuss her pa and look after four more, what d'ye calc'late you'd calc'late?"
"I'd calculate," said Selina, "that I ought to go out there to the farm and see about it at once."
"Usin' your buggy or mine?"
"Mine, thank you."
"G'-by, Mr. Baines," she said, and laughed.
Scattergood watched her disappear in the direction of her home and then got up leisurely and ambled toward the Congregational parsonage, in which young Jason Hooper lived in solitary dignity. Mr. Hooper was in his study.
"Howdy, Parson?" said Scattergood.
"How do you do, Mr. Baines?"
"Bible say anythin' regardin' visitin' the sick an' ministerin' to the oppressed?"
"A great deal, Mr. Baines."
"Think it's meant, eh? Or was it put there jest to preach about?"
"It is meant, undoubtedly."
"Um!... Xenophon Banks busted his leg. 'Leven-year-old daughter's tryin' to carry him and four other childern on to her back, so to speak."
"I'll go at once, Mr. Baines."
Scattergood fidgeted. "Calculate Xenophon wasn't forehanded. Six mouths to feed. More mealtimes than meals," he said, and fumbled in his pocket. He was visibly embarrassed. "Here's ten dollars that was give me to be used for sich a purpose. The feller that give it let on he wanted it to come like it was give by the church, and him not mentioned. Git the idee?"
"I get the idea perfectly," said young Mr. Hooper, his face lighting as he surveyed Scattergood with a whimsical twinkle—and as he saw this scheming, money-hungry, power-hungry man in a new light. "The man may feel confident I shall not betray him."
"If I was a minister in sich a case I wouldn't forgit some stick candy for them five childern. Seems like candy's 'most necessary for sich. Dum foolishness, but keeps 'em quiet.... Git a big bag of candy.... And, if I was doin' this, I wouldn't let no grass grow under my feet."
So it happened that Selina Pettybone and the Rev. Jason Hooper, respectively, daughter of the leading deacon of the Baptist church, and parson of the Congregational church, arrived at Xenophon Banks's little house within ten minutes of each other, and each was greatly embarrassed by the other's presence, for the family feud had compelled them to be coldly distant to each other all of their short lives.... But there was much to do, and embarrassment of such kind between an unusually pretty and wholesome girl, and a reasonably well-looking and kindly young man, is not an emotion that cannot be easily dissipated.
About a week later Scattergood chanced to pass Deacon Pettybone's house, and saw the old gentleman sitting on the front porch, shaping a large piece of wood with a draw-shave.
"Afternoon, Deacon," said Scattergood.
"Set and rest your legs," said the deacon. "Jest puttin' the finishin' touches on this timber leg of mine."
"Sturdy-lookin' leg, Deacon."
"Best I ever made. Always calc'late to keep one ahead. Soon's one leg wears out and I put on the spare one, I set to work fashionin' another, to have by me. Always manage to figger some improvement."
"More int'restin' than cuttin' out ax handles," said Scattergood.
The deacon looked his scorn. "Anybody kin cut an ax handle, but lemme tell you it takes study and figgerin' and brains to turn out a timber leg that's full as good if not better 'n a real one.... I aim to varnish this here leg and hang it in the harness room. Wisht I could keep it by me in the kitchen, but the ol' woman says it sp'iles her appetite. Wimmin is full of notions. Claims she'd go crazy with a leg a-hangin' back of the stove, and some day she'd up and slam it in the oven and serve it up for a roast. You kin thank your stars you hain't got wimmin's notions to worry you, Scattergood."
"How d'ye stand on the proposition to have the town build a sidewalk up the hill apast the Congregational church, Deacon?"
The deacon pounded on the porch with his nearly finished leg, and grew red in the face. "All the doin's of ol' man Hooper. Connivin' and squillickin' around for his own ends. Lemme tell you, Scattergood, no town meetin' of Coldriver'll ever vote sich a steal only over my dead body. Jest you tell that far and wide."
Business had been almost at a standstill for Scattergood. The only sales he made were of small articles his competitors had forgotten or neglected to stock. He had not taken in enough money for a month to pay for the wear and tear on his fixtures. Coldriver was coming to set him down as a failure and a black disappointment; but it marveled that he took no action whatever and showed no signs of worry. His eyes were as blue and his manner as humorous as it had ever been. Most of his conversation seemed to be on the subject of the sidewalk past the Congregational church, and it was carried on in low tones, and never to more than one individual at a time. If those individuals had compared notes they would have been astonished. Scattergood's attitude on the matter was widely different, depending on whether he talked with Baptist or Congregationalist. One might almost say that both sides were coming to him for advice on how to conduct its campaign to carry the town meeting—and one would have been right.
The matter had developed into the hottest political issue Coldriver had ever seen. No presidential election had come near to rivaling it, and the local-option issue had stirred up fewer heartburnings and given rise to less bellowing and to fewer hard words. The town meeting was less than a month away.
But even in the heat of the campaign Scattergood found time to drive out to Xenophon Banks's. The road to Banks's was fairly well traveled these days, for there was hardly a day that did not see either Selina Pettybone or Parson Hooper driving out to the little house, and, strangely enough, the days on which both were present appeared to be in the majority. Scattergood dropped out now and then with pockets full of stick candy, which he never delivered himself, but which he always handed to the minister or to Selina to be given anonymously after he was gone. He seemed as much interested in watching Selina and Jason as he was in talking with Xenophon, and he might have been perceived frequently to nod his head with satisfaction—especially on the day when he heard Jason call Selina by her first name, and on the other day when he saw the young minister retaining Selina's hand longer than he should have done in saying good afternoon. That day Jason drove back to town with Scattergood.
"Likely-lookin' girl—Seliny," observed Scattergood.
"Beautiful," said the parson, and Scattergood grinned.
"Um!... Single ministers is a menace. Yes, sir, churches has busted up on account of their ministers not bein' married."
There was no reply.
"But I calculate you're different. You're jest made and created to be an old batch. Never seen sich a feller. Couldn't no girl interest you, not if she was the Queen of Sheeby."
"Mr. Baines," said Jason, after a pause, "I'm very miserable. I—I think I shall resign from my church and go away."
"Sandrich Islands or somewheres—missionery feller?" said Scattergood.
"I—why, yes, that's what I'll do.... I wish I'd never seen her." Then he corrected himself sharply. "No, I don't. I'm glad I've seen her. I've got that much, anyhow. I can always remember her and think about how sweet and beautiful she was—"
"And die at the age of eighty with her name comin' from your lips on your last breath. To be sure.... Seems to me, though, it would be a sight more satisfyin' to live them fifty-odd years with her and raise up a fam'ly, and git some benefits out of that sweetness and beauty and sich like, besides mullin' 'em over in your mind. Speakin' of Seliny, wasn't you?"
"Don't hanker to marry her?"
"Then why in tunket don't you?"
"She's a Baptist."
"White, hain't she?"
"Of course, sir."
"Don't call to mind no state law ag'in' Congregationalists marryin' Baptists."
"My congregation wouldn't allow it."
"Hain't never seen no deed of sale of you to your congregation."
"Her father would never permit it?"
"And she's an obedient daughter."
"Has she said so?"
"Ho! Kind of human, after all, hain't you? Look pleased when she said it?"
"I—She—she loves me, Mr. Baines."
"Well, I snum! Kind of disobedient to love you, hain't it? Knows her father 'd be set ag'in' it?"
"Yes, but she can't help that."
"You—why, you fall in love! You don't do it on purpose, Mr. Baines. It just comes to you."
"From where?" said Scattergood, abruptly.
The young minister stared.
"Who's to blame for there bein' love?" Scattergood demanded.
After a pause the young man answered. "God," he said. "Why does He send it?"
"So that people will marry, and the love will keep them together, strong to bear the trials and labors of life. I think love is a kind of wages that God pays to men and women for living on His earth."
"Um!... Does He send love sort of helter-skelter and hit-or-miss, or does He aim it at certain folks?"
"I have often preached that marriages were made in heaven."
"Then it's a kind of a command, hain't it?"
"Which d'ye calculate is the wust disobedience? To refuse to obey an order sich as this, or to disobey a parent that runs counter to the wants of the Almighty?"
The young man's face was alight with happiness. "Mr. Baines," he said, "I'm grateful to you. I shall marry Selina."
"Maybe," said Scattergood. "It runs in my mind you got to have dealin's with Deacon Pettybone, and the deacon always figgers that the news he gits from heaven is fresher and more dependable than what anybody else gits. Might ask him and see."
A few days after that Coldriver knew that Parson Hooper had asked the hand of Selina from her father and had been rejected with language and almost with violence. Then a strange thing took place. If Jason had married Selina without opposition, his congregation would have been enraged. He might have been forced from his pulpit. Now it regarded him as a martyr, and with clacking tongues and singleness of purpose it espoused his cause and declared that their minister was good enough to marry any girl alive, and that Deacon Pettybone was a mean, narrow-minded, bigoted, cantankerous old grampus. The thing became a public question, second in importance only to the sidewalk.
"Hold your hosses," Scattergood advised Jason. "Let's see what a mite of dickerin' and persuasion'll do with the deacon. Then, if measures fails, my advice to you as a human bein' and a citizen is to git Seliny into a buckboard and run off with her. But hold on a spell."
So Jason held on, and the town meeting approached, and Scattergood continued to sit in idleness on the piazza of his store and twiddle his bare toes in the sunshine. Deacon Pettybone was a busy man, organizing the forces of the Baptists, and seeking diligently to round up the votes of neutrals. Elder Hooper, the leader of the Congregationalist party, was equally occupied, and no man might hazard a guess at the outcome of the affair.
"This here is a great principle," said Deacon Pettybone, "and men gives their lives and sacrifices their families for sich. I'm a-goin' to fight to the last gasp."
"Don't blame ye a mite," said Scattergood. "If them Congregationalists rule this town meetin' you might's well throw up your hands. They'll rule the town forever."
"It's got to be pervented."
"And nobody but you kin manage it," said Scattergood. "The hull thing rests with you. Why, if you was sick so's to be absent from that meetin' the Congregationalists 'u'd win, hands down."
"I b'lieve it," said the deacon, "and nothin' on earth'll keep me away—nothin'. If I was a-layin' at my last gasp I'd git myself carried there."
"Deacon," said Scattergood, solemnly, "much is dependin' on you. Coldriver's fort'nit to have sich a man at the helm."
Even the cribbage game under the barber shop was suspended, and the cribbage game was an institution. It was the deacon's one shortcoming, but even there he strove to get the better of the enemy, for the two men who were considered his only worthy antagonists at the game were Congregationalists. The three bickered and quarreled and threatened each other with violence, but they played daily. There were few afternoons when a ring of spectators did not surround the table, breathlessly watching the champions. It was the great local sporting event, and who shall quarrel with the good deacon for touching cards in the innocent game of cribbage? Certainly his pastor did not do so, nor did the fellow members of his congregation. Indeed, there was even pride in his prowess.
But the game was discontinued, and Hamilcar Jones and Tilley Newcamp were loud in their excoriations of their late antagonist. The Congregationalists had no hotter adherents than they, nor none who entered the conflict with more bitterness of spirit. Scattergood saw to it that he encountered them on the evening before the momentous town meeting.
"Evenin', Ham. Evening Tilley."
"How's things lookin' for to-morrer?"
"Mighty even, Scattergood. If 'twan't for that ol' gallus Pettybone, we'd git that sidewalk with votes to spare."
"Um!... If he was absent from the meetin' things might git to happen."
"Ho! Tie him to home, and there wouldn't even be a fight."
"Got a wooden leg, hain't he?"
"Wisht he had three."
"Got two, one hangin' in the harness room. Harness room's never locked. If 'twas a boy could squirm through the window."
"What of it?"
"Nothin'. Jest happened to think of it.... Ever stop to think what a comical thing it 'u'd be if somebody was to ketch a wooden-legged man and saw his leg off about halfway up? Jest lay him across a saw buck and saw her off while he hollered and fit. Most comical notion I ever had."
"Would make a feller laugh."
"More 'special if his spare leg was stole away and he didn't have nothin' but the sawed-off one. Sich a man would have difficulty gittin' any place he wanted to git to.... G'-by, Ham. G'-by, Tilley. Hope the meetin' comes out right to-morrer."
Scattergood went inside and looked at his bank book. In two months his deposits from sales had amounted to something like a hundred dollars. The situation spelled nothing less than bankruptcy, but Scattergood replaced the book and waddled out to his piazza, where he sat in the cool of the evening, twiddling his toes and looking from the store of one competitor to the store of another, reflectively.
At a late hour a small boy named Newcamp delivered a bulky package to Scattergood, and vanished into the darkness. The package was about large enough to contain a timber leg.
The town seethed with politics next morning, and the deacon was in the center of it. The meeting was called for ten o'clock. At nine thirty a small boy wriggled up to the deacon and whispered in his ear. The deacon quickly made his way out of the crowd and down the stairs into the basement room under the barber shop—for news had been given him of a chance to swap for votes. He burst into the room, and stopped, frowning, for Tilley Newcamp stood before him. Hamilcar Jones was not at the moment visible, because he was behind the door, which he slammed shut and locked.
No word was uttered, but a Trojan struggle ensued. It was two against one, but even those odds did not daunt the deacon. It was full five minutes before he was flat on his back, panting and uttering such burning and searing words as might properly fall from the lips of a Baptist deacon. Tilley Newcamp, who was heavy, sat on his chest. Hamilcar Jones dragged up a saw buck and laid the deacon's timber leg across it.... The deacon saw and comprehended, and lifted up his voice. Another five minutes were consumed in returning him to quiescence. And then the saw did its work, while the deacon breathed threats of blood and torture, and regretted that his religion prevented him from using language better suited to his purpose. The leg was severed; a fragment full ten inches long fell from the end, and the deacon's assailants drew away, their fell purpose accomplished.
There was a rapping on the door. It was Scattergood Baines, and he was admitted. His face was full of wrath as he gazed within, and he quivered with fury as he ordered the two miscreants out of the place.
"What's this, Deacon, what's this?" he demanded.
The deacon told him at length, and fluently.
"I was jest in time. Now we kin send for that spare leg and you kin git to the meetin'. Lucky you had that spare leg."
The deacon sat on the floor, speechless now, staring down at all that remained to him of his timber leg. Scattergood, with great show of solicitude, dispatched a youngster to the deacon's house for his extra limb. He returned empty-handed.
"This here boy says the leg hain't in the harness room. Sure you left it there?"
Again the deacon found his voice, and his words were to the general effect that the blame swizzled, ornery, ill-sired, and regrettably reared pew-gags had, in defiance of law and order, stolen and made away with his leg—and what was he to do?
"Deacon, you can't go like that. If this story got into the meetin' it would do fer you. You'd git laughed out. Them Congregationalists 'u'd win. You got to have a sound leg to travel on, and I don't see but one way to git it."
"Call in young Parson Hooper and make him force them adherents of hisn to give it up."
Scattergood did not wait for the permission he surmised would not be given, but sent word for Jason Hooper, who came, saw, and was most remarkably astonished.
"Parson," said Scattergood, "this here outrage is onendurable. Some of you Congregationers done it, and stole his other leg. As leader of your flock and a honest man, it's your bounden duty to git it back."
"But I—I know nothing about it. What can I do? I—There isn't a thing you can do."
"Deacon," said Scattergood, "there hain't a soul in the world can git back your leg in time but this young man. Maybe he don't know he kin do it, but he kin. Hain't you got no offer to make?"
The parson started to say something, but Scattergood silenced him with a waggle of the head.
"I got to git to that meetin'," bellowed the deacon. "There hain't nothin' in the world I wouldn't give to git there, and git there whole and hearty, and so's not to be laughed at."
"Remind you of any leetle want of yourn?" asked Scattergood. He took the young man aside and whispered to him.
"Deacon," he said, presently, "Parson Hooper says as how he don't see no reason for interferin' and helpin' his enemy." The parson had said nothing of the sort. "But I kin see a reason, Deacon. If this here young man was a member of your family, so to speak, and was related to you clost by ties of love and marriage, I don't see how he'd have a right to hold his hand.... Want this man's daughter f'r your wedded wife, don't you?"
"Yes," said the parson, faintly.
"Hear that, Deacon? Hear that?"
"Never, by the hornswoggled whale that swallered Jonah."
"Meetin's about to start," said Scattergood, looking at his watch.
The deacon sweated and bellowed, but Scattergood adroitly waved the red flag of animosity before his eyes, and pictured black ruin and defeat—until the deacon was ready to surrender life itself.
"Git me my leg," he shouted, "and you kin have anythin'.... Git me my leg."
"Is it a promise, Deacon? Calculate it's a promise?"
"I promise. I promise, solemn."
Scattergood whispered again in the pastor's ear, who stuttered and flushed and choked, and hurried out of the room, presently to reappear with the deacon's spare leg.
"Now, young feller, make your preparations for that there weddin'.... Scoot."
It is of record that the deacon arrived, like Sheridan at Winchester, in the nick of time; that he rallied his flustered cohorts and led them to triumph—and then regretted the bargain he had made. But it was too late. He could not draw back. Wife and daughter and townsfolk were all against him, and he could not withstand the pressure.
"Parson," said Scattergood, "your pa and the deacon ought to make up."
"They'll never do it, Mr. Baines."
"Deacon'll have to let your pa come to the weddin'. There'll be makin' up and reconciliations when there's a grandson, but I can't wait. I'm in a all-fired hurry. You go to the deacon and tell him your pa sent him to say that he's ready to bury the hatchet and begs the deacon's pardon for everythin'—everythin'."
"But it wouldn't be true."
"It's got to be true. Hain't I sayin' it's true? And then you go to your pa and tell him the deacon wants to make up, and begs his pardon out and out. Tell both of 'em to be at my store at three o'clock, but don't tell neither t'other's to be there."
At three o'clock Deacon Pettybone and Elder Hooper came face to face in Scattergood's place of business.
"Howdy, gents?" said Scattergood. "Lookin' forward to bein' mutual grandads, I calc'late. Must be quite a feelin' to know you're in line to be a grandad."
"Huh!" grunted the deacon.
"Wumph!" coughed the elder.
"To think of you old coots dandlin' a baby on your knees—and buyin' it pep'mint candy and the Lord knows what, and walkin' down the street, each of you holdin' one of its hands and it walkin' betwixt you.... Dummed if I don't congratulate you."
The deacon looked at the elder and the elder looked at the deacon. They grinned, frostily at first, then more broadly.
"By hek! Eph," said the deacon.
"I'll be snummed!" said the elder, and they shook hands there and then.
"Step back here a minute. I got a mite of business. You won't want the nuisance of that stage line—with a grandson to fetch up. I'm kinder hankerin' to run the thing—not that it'll be much of an investment."
"What you offerin'?" asked the deacon.
Scattergood mentioned the sum. "Cash," he concluded.
"Calc'late we better sell," said the elder.
An hour later, with the papers in his pocket to prove ownership, Scattergood visited the stores of his rivals, Locker, Kettleman, Lumley, and Penny.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you been a-tryin' to crowd me out of business. I hain't made a cent of profit f'r two months, and I calc'late on a profit of two hunderd and fifty a month. Jest gimme your check for five hunderd dollars and I'll take your stocks of hardware off'n your hands at, say, fifty cents on the dollar, and we'll call it a day."
"Scattergood, we got you where we want you. You can't hold out another sixty days."
"Maybe. But, gentlemen, I guess we kin do business. I jest bought the only means of transportin' goods, wares, and merchandise into Coldriver. Beginnin' now, rates for freight goes up. I've studied the law, and there hain't no way to pervent me. I kin charge what I want for freighting and what I want will be so much not a one of you kin do business.... And I'll put in groceries and what not, myself. Gittin' my freight free, I calc'late to under-sell you quite consid'able.... Kin we do business?"
The enemy went into executive session. They surrendered. Scattergood pocketed a check for five hundred dollars, and came into possession of a fine stock of hardware at fifty cents on the dollar. Likewise, he owned the stage line and franchise, controlling the only right of way by which a railroad could reach up the valley. It had required politics, marrying and giving in marriage, and patience, to accomplish it, but it was done.
That evening Mrs. Hooper and Mrs. Pettybone, childhood friends, long separated by the feud, stopped to speak to Scattergood.
"Nobody knows how we appreciate what you done Minnie and me," said Mrs. Pettybone.
"Blessed is the peacemaker," said Mrs. Hooper.
"Thankee, ladies. I don't mind bein' a peacemaker any time—when I kin do it at a profit."
"It's always done at a profit, Mr. Baines, if you read the Good Book. This day you laid up a treasure in heaven."
"Trouble with depositin' profits in heaven," said Scattergood, very soberly, "is that you got to wait so tarnation long to draw your int'rest."
HE MAKES IT ROUND NUMBERS
"It's a telegram from Johnnie Bones," said Scattergood Baines to his wife, Mandy, as he tore open the yellow envelope and read the brief message it contained.
"Telegram!" said Mandy. "Why didn't he write? Them telegrams come high.... Huh! Jest one word—'Come.' Costs as much to send ten as it does one, don't it?"
"Identical," said Scattergood.
"Then," said Mandy, sharply, "if he was bound to telegraph why didn't he git his money's worth?"
"I calc'late he thought he said a plenty," Scattergood replied. "Johnnie he don't like to put no more in writin' that's apt to pass from hand to hand than he's obleeged to.... Mandy, looks like we better start for home."
"What d'you s'pose it kin be?" Mandy asked, already busy laying clothing in their canvas telescope. "Mostly telegrams announces death or sickness."
"I kin think of sixty-nine things it might be," said Scattergood, "but I got a feelin' it hain't none of 'em."
"We shouldn't of come away on this vacation," said Mandy. "Johnnie Bones is too young a boy to leave in charge."
"Johnnie Bones is a dum good lawyer, Mandy, and a dum far-seein' young man. I don't calc'late Johnnie's done us no harm. Hain't no hurry, Mandy. We can't git a train home for five hours."
"We'll be settin' right in the depot waitin' for it," said Mandy, who declined to take chances. "Be sure you keep your money in the pants pocket on the side I'm walkin' on. Pickpockets 'u'd have some difficulty gittin' past me."
"Only thing ag'in' Johnnie Bones," said Scattergood, "is that he hain't a first-rate hardware clerk."
Scattergood, in spite of the ownership of twenty-four miles of narrow-gauge railroad, of a hundred-odd thousand acres of spruce, and of a sawmill whose capacity was thirty thousand feet a day, persisted in regarding these things as side lines, and in looking upon his little hardware store in Coldriver as the vital business of his life. It was now ten years since Scattergood had walked up Coldriver Valley to the village of Coldriver. It was ten years since he had embarked on the conquest of that desirable valley, with a total working capital of forty dollars and some cents—and he not only controlled the valley's business and timber and transportation, but generally supervised the politics of the state. He could have borne up manfully if all of it were taken away from him—excepting the hardware store. To have ill befall that would have been disaster, indeed.
On the train Scattergood turned over a seat to have a resting place for his feet, took off his shoes, displaying white woolen socks, a refinement forced upon him by Mandy, and leaned back to doze and speculate. When Mandy thought him safely asleep she covered his feet with a paper, to conceal from the public view this evidence of a character not overgiven to refinements. It is characteristic of Scattergood that, though wide awake, he gave no sign of knowledge of Mandy's act. Scattergood was thinking, and to think, with him, meant so to unfetter his feet that he could wriggle his toes pleasurably.
Johnnie Bones was waiting for Scattergood at the station.
"Johnnie," said Scattergood, "did you sell that kitchen range to Sam Kettleman?"
"Almost, Mr. Baines, almost. But when it came to unwrapping the weasel skin and laying money on the counter, Sam guessed Mrs. Kettleman could keep on cooking a spell with what she had."
"Johnnie," said Scattergood, "you're dum near perfect; but you got your shortcomings. Hardware's one of 'em.... What about that telegram of yourn?"
"Yes," said Mandy.
"Mr. Castle, president of the G. and B.—"
"I know what job he's holdin' down, Johnnie."
"—came to see you yesterday. I wouldn't tell him where you were, so he had to tell me what he wanted. He wants to buy your railroad. Said to have you wire him right off."
"Um!..." Scattergood walked deliberately, with heavy-footed stride, to the telegraph operator, and wrote a brief but eminently characteristic message. "I might," the telegram said to President Castle.
"Now, folks," he said, "we'll go up to the store and sort of figger on what Castle's got in mind."
They sat down on the veranda, under the wooden awning, and Scattergood's specially reinforced chair creaked under his great weight as he stooped to remove his shoes. For a moment he wriggled his toes, just as a golfer waggles his driver preparatory to the stroke. "Um!..." he said.
"Castle," said he, presently, "works for jest two objects—makin' money and payin' off grudges. Most gen'ally he tries to figger so's to combine 'em."
Johnnie and Mandy waited. They knew better than to interrupt Scattergood's train of thought. Had they done so he would have uttered no rebuke, but would have hoisted himself out of his chair and would have waddled away up the dusty street, and neither of them would ever hear another word of the matter.
"He knows I wouldn't sell this road without gittin' money for it. Therefore he's figgerin' on makin' a lot of money out of it, or payin' off a doggone big grudge.... Somebody we don't know about is calc'latin' on movin' into this valley, Johnnie. Somebody that's goin' to do a heap of shippin'—and that means timber cuttin'.... And it must be settled or Castle wouldn't come out and offer to buy."
Johnnie and Mandy had followed the reasoning and nodded assent.
"What timber be they goin' to cut?" Scattergood poked a chubby finger at Johnnie, who shook his head.
"The Goodhue tract, back of Tupper Falls. Uh-huh! Because there hain't no other sizable tract that I hain't got strings on. And the mills, whatever kind they be, will be at Tupper Falls. Mills got to be there. Can't git timber out to no other place. And, Johnnie, buyin' timber is a heap more important and difficult than buyin' mill sites. Eh?... Johnnie, you ketch the first train for Tupper Falls. I own a mite of land along the railroad, Johnnie, but you buy all the rest from the falls to the station. Not in my name, Johnnie. Git deeds to folks whose names we're entitled to use—and the more deeds the better. Scoot."
"Now, Scattergood, don't go actin' hasty," said Mandy. "You don't know—"
"The only thing I don't know, Mandy, is whether Johnnie 's too late to buy that land. Knowin' nobody else wants it, and it hain't no good for nothin' but what they want it for, these folks may not have bought yit...."
Scattergood shouted suddenly at the passing drayman. "Hey, Pete.... Come here and git a cookin' range and take it up to Sam Kettleman's house. Git a man to help you. Tell Mis' Kettleman I sent it, and she's to try it a week to see if she likes it. Set it up for her and all."
Scattergood settled back to watch with approval, while two men hoisted the heavy stove on the wagon and drove away with it. Presently Sam Kettleman appeared on the porch of his grocery across the street, and Scattergood called to him: "Well, Sam, glad you decided to git the woman a new stove. Shows you're up an' doin'. It's all set up by this time."
Sam stared a moment; then, smitten speechless, he rushed across the road and stood, a picture of rage, glaring at Scattergood. "I didn't buy no stove. You know dum well I didn't buy no stove. I can't afford no stove. You jest git right up there and haul it back here, d'you hear me?"
"Well, now, Sam, don't it beat all—me makin' a mistake like that? Sure I'll send after it, right off.... Now I won't have to order one special for Locker." Locker was the rival grocer. "I kin haul this one right to his house, and explain to him how he come to git it so soon. I'll say: 'Locker, we jest hauled this stove down from Sam Kettleman's. Had it all set up there and then Sam he figgered it was too expensive a stove for him and he couldn't afford it right now on account of business not bein' brisk.'"
"Eh?" said Kettleman.
"'Twon't cause a mite of talk that anybody'll pay attention to. Everybody knows what Locker's wife is. Tongue wagglin' at both ends. And I'll take pains to conterdict whatever story she goes spreadin' about you bein' too mean to git your wife things to do with in the kitchen, and about how you're 'most bankrupt and ready to give up business. Nobody'll b'lieve her, anyhow, Sam, but if they do I'll explain it to 'em."
"Locker's wife'll be glad to have it, too. She'd have to wait two weeks for hers, and now she'll git it right off. Oven's cracked on hern, and she allows she sp'iles every batch of bread she bakes—and her pledged to furnish six loaves for the Methodist Ladies' Food Sale...."
"Scattergood Baines, if you dast touch my stove I'll have the law onto you. You can't go enterin' my house and removin' things without my permission, I kin tell you. Don't you try to forgit it, neither. If you think you can gouge me out of my stove jest to make it more convenient for Mis' Locker, you're thinkin' wrong...."
"'Tain't your stove till it's paid for, Sam."
"Then, by gum! it'll be mine darn quick. Thirty-eight dollars, was it? Now you gimme a receipt.... Locker!..."
Scattergood waddled into the store, wrote a receipt, and put the money in the safe. When Sam had recrossed the road again he turned to Johnnie Bones. "Sellin' hard-ware's easy if you put your mind to it, Johnnie. Trouble with you is you don't take no int'rest in it.... Next time you'll know better. Train's goin' in fifteen minutes. Better hustle."
Next noon Scattergood was in his usual place on the piazza of his store when the train came in. Presently Mr. Castle, president of the G. & B., came into view, and Scattergood closed his eyes as if enjoying a midday snooze. Mr. Castle approached, stopped, regarded Scattergood with a pucker of his thin lips, and said to himself that the man must be an accident. It was one of Scattergood's most valuable qualities that his appearance and manner gave that opinion to people, even when they had suffered discomfiture at his hands. Mr. Castle coughed, and Scattergood opened his eyes sleepily and peered over the rolls of fat that were his cheeks.
"Howdy?" said Scattergood, not moving.
"Good day, Mr. Baines. You got my message?"
"Seein' as you got my reply to it, I must have," said Scattergood.
"Can we talk here?"
Mr. Castle looked about. No one was within earshot. He occupied a chair at Scattergood's side.
"I understand your message to mean that you are willing to sell your railroad."
"I calculate that message meant jest what it said."
"I know what your railroad cost you—almost to a penny."
"Uh-huh!" said Scattergood, without interest.
"I'll tell you why I want it. My idea is to extend it through to Humboldt—twenty miles. May have to tunnel Hopper Mountain, but it will give me a short line to compete with the V. and M. from Montreal."
"To be sure," said Scattergood, who knew well that such an extension was not only impracticable from the point of view of engineering, but also from the standpoint of traffic to be obtained. "Good idee."
"I'll pay you cost and a profit of twenty-five thousand dollars."
"Hain't interested special," said Scattergood. "I git that much fun out of railroadin'."
"It isn't paying interest on your investment."
"I calculate it's goin' to. I'm aimin' to see it does."
"Set a figure yourself."
"Hain't got no figger in mind."
"Mr. Baines, I'll be frank with you. I want your railroad."
"So I jedged," said Scattergood.
"I need it. I'll pay you a profit of fifty thousand—and that's my last word."
Scattergood closed his eyes, opened them again, and sat erect. "Now that business is over with," he said, "better come up and set down to table with Mandy and me. Mandy's cookin' is considered some better 'n at the hotel."
"I was wonderin'," said Scattergood, "if you had any notion if I could buy the Goodhue timber reasonable?"
"Eh?" said Mr. Castle, startled. "The Goodhue timber?"
"Back of Tupper Falls."
"Who told—" Mr. Castle snapped his teeth together sharply.
"Leetle bird," said Scattergood. "Dinner's ready."
"There might come a time when you'd be mighty glad to sell for less than I'm offering."
"Once there was a boy," said Scattergood, "and he up and says to another boy, 'I kin lick you,' The story come to me that the boy sort of overestimated his weight.'"
"I'm not threatening you," said Castle.
"It's a privilege I don't deny to nobody.... Say, Mr. Castle, be you goin' into this deal to make money or to take somebody's scalp?"
"Baines," said Mr. Castle, "I'll buy you the best box of cigars in Boston if you'll tell me where you get your information."
"Hatch it," said Scattergood, gravely. "Jest set patient onto the egg, and perty soon the shell busts and there stands the information all fluffy and wabbly and ready to grow up into a chicken if it's used right."
"Will you answer a fair question?"
"If our idees of the fairness of it agrees with one another."
"Has McKettrick got to you first?"
It was the information Scattergood wanted, but his dumplinglike face showed no sign of satisfaction. As a matter of fact, he did not know who McKettrick was—but he could find out. "Don't seem to recall any conversation with him," he said, cautiously, leaving Castle to believe what he desired—and Castle believed.
"He was keeping his plans almighty dark. I don't understand his spilling them to you. It cost me money to find out."